September 19, 1998
After decades in power, Honduran military faces civilian rule

                  TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) -- The Honduran congress voted
                  unanimously Saturday to withdraw the autonomy of the armed forces and
                  place them under civilian rule, ending more than four decades of military

                  After 11 hours of deliberation, all 128 members of the single-house National
                  Legislature voted in favor of the constitutional revision, introduced by
                  President Carlos Flores Facusse.

                  For 41 years, the armed forces were, by law, autonomous and were not
                  accountable to civilian authority. Military leaders were openly in power until
                  1982 when, under pressure from the United States, they allowed civilians to
                  be elected president.

                  But even then, they wielded power behind the scenes, and civilian presidents
                  could barely control them, especially when they were accused of violating
                  human rights.

                  Officers accused of misdeeds could not be prosecuted in civilian courts, but
                  were judged only by military tribunals. This started changing about five years
                  ago, when the armed forces agreed to let officers be judged by civilians.

                  Reforms said to have backing of armed forces

                  The job of commander-in-chief of the armed forces has been eliminated,
                  along with the high command made up of 54 senior officers. The
                  commander-in-chief, until now, was answerable only to the high command,
                  which had in the past deposed a number of presidents -- both civilian and

                  Instead, the defense minister -- up to now a ceremonial figure -- becomes
                  the head of the armed forces. A newly formed joint chiefs of staff will be
                  answerable to him.

                  The reforms also stripped key commanders of their constitutional immunity,
                  which made their prosecution for misdeeds extremely difficult.

                  Brig. Gen. Mario Hung Pacheco, who will step down as
                  commander-in-chief in 1999, said both he and the armed forces support the

                  "What prevailed yesterday was good for yesterday, but bad today. The
                  military had their autonomy, but it's about time this was dropped," he told

                  An exultant Flores Facusse, who was sworn in last January, added, "With
                  this step, the armed forces ratify their subordination to civilians and support
                  modernization of the democratic system of government in Honduras."

                  Earlier, the congress eliminated compulsory military service.

                  Saturday's reforms further removed the police, immigration, civil aeronautics,
                  the merchant marine and the state telephone company from military authority
                  and placed them under civilian control.

                  Copyright 1998   The Associated Press.